Friday, December 29, 2006

Dog Park Etiquette

We got a Golden Retriever puppy just before Christmas 2005. She and I are together 24 hours a day and that is fine with me. Although she doesn’t actually talk she makes more sense to me than those who can talk – people. My dog’s name is Emmylou.

Last winter, when Emmylou reached the age of 4 months, we began what has become an almost daily ritual – going to the dog park. The Metropolitan government of Nashville constructed a few of these fenced areas throughout the city and they are very much appreciated by thousands of dogs and their owners. Emmylou and I frequent a venue that is a 4 acre parcel of flat earth filled with tennis balls, Frisbees, puddles, benches, a few freshly-planted young trees and a water fountain. She and I have made some terrific friends at the dog park – both animal and human. We have also encountered some circumstances that have been most troubling – mostly human.

As we approach Emmylou’s first birthday I feel that she and I have enough experience to catalog a handful of hints, rules and regulations regarding dog park etiquette and procedure. We both agree that the following list of do’s and don’ts will enhance your dog park experience and keep you from being arrested by the idiot police. Enjoy!

1. DO NOT STOP AT MCDONALD’S on the way and bring sausage and biscuits into the park and get angry when a dog jumps up and grabs the bag out of your hand and rips it apart. This is a dog park and there are dogs here and dogs really like sausage and bacon and hamburgers. Remember this.

2. IF YOU THINK YOUR DOG is so good-looking that it should be on the cover of an L. L. Bean mailer that’s fine – join the club. However, if you tie a kerchief around your dog’s neck to further promote this perception please don’t fly off the handle when another, less statuesque mutt grabs hold of that kerchief and drags your pup around in the mud.

3. IF YOU HAVE A MEAN DOG please don’t visit the dog park. IF YOU HAVE A MEAN DOG and you do visit the dog park don’t expect to make any friends. Other dog owners will not like you and will ask you to leave. IF YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU HAVE A MEAN DOG please figure that out before you visit the dog park.

4. DOGS THAT CONSTANTLY HUMP other dogs are not cute.

5. IF YOU BRING A BOOK, newspaper or computer to the dog park you will not be able to see your dog crapping. Eyes up, please!

6. LAST WEEK A WOMAN asked me how to use a Mutt Mitt. A Mutt Mitt is a plastic bag with a reinforced bottom with which you clean up after your dog. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. I told her to look at the Mutt Mitt for a few seconds to determine whether or not she was still confused. She was. I showed her how to put her hand in the open part of the plastic bag and use it like a glove. She finally understood and she was grateful. Bottom line: IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE A MUTT MITT do not visit the dog part; actually, don’t leave your house.

7. DO NOT WEAR A TUXEDO or an evening gown to the dog park – especially after it rains. You will get sweaty, muddy and dusty at the dog park. Wear something suitable and don’t expect any pity from me if my dog jumps up and tattoos your white, linen trousers with paw marks.

8. WELL-BEHAVED DOGS STILL PLAY ROUGH. You should know this and not have a nervous breakdown if a playful hound plows into your ‘little precious,’ grabs onto its ears, gently growls, slobbers on its neck and pins it to the ground. Dogs do this.

9. DON’T LEAVE THE ENTRANCE GATE OPEN when you come and go. You will notice that there is a fence enclosing the entire expanse of the park. This is to ensure that our animal friends do not run off. When you leave the entrance gate open it becomes a means of escape. Do you understand this? Dogs do.

10. As in any public place NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR YOUR CELL PHONE CONVERSATIONS. If you must have it with you please speak with your ‘inside voice’ and find a little corner far away from the rest of us. And, while you are having your oh-so-important chat remember that you have a dog with you for whom you are responsible. If you become so engaged in your phone call that you don’t notice that your dog is humping another dog or just crapped on the other side of the park someone will tell you.

11. IN TENNESSEE SMOKING IS GENERALLY ALLOWED, encouraged, in fact. The dogs don’t seem to mind or even notice but many owners don’t like it one bit. If you must smoke at the dog park isolate yourself or form a little ‘smoker’s group.’ Finally, please pick up your butts using a Butt Mitt. (See #6 above for instructions.)

12. IF YOUR DOG IS EXTREMELY WELL-TRAINED and can do things like heel and stay and catch a Frisbee 5 feet off the ground please DO NOT DISPLAY THIS IN THE DOG PARK. This causes guilt in other owners.

13. THINK PLAYFULLY WHEN NAMING YOUR DOG. Don’t attempt to make a political statement, reference some weird sci-fi novel or memorialize an alt-rock singer who OD’d on crack. There’s nothing wrong with Lucky, Princess or Duke. On the other hand there is no room, reason or patience in the dog park for Charlemainge, Joan of Barc or Snoop Doggie-Dawg.